Saturday, August 29, 2009

Are ODI's A Thing Of The Past?

On The Match Referee's Facebook fan page I recently asked whether there would ever come a time when England could be taken seriously in ODIs. Here, I found my answer. In one fell swoop the Poms have decided that one-day cricket is superfluous to their requirements and clearly not a priority for the future.

I can't help but get the feeling that this is a decision motivated by (wait for it...) financial considerations rather than any stiff-upper-lip English response to the less than pure forms of the game. If it wasn't, why wouldn't they scrap the 40 over competition too?

Given that the ODI Cricket World Cup is going to be around until at least 2015, for that's when the ICC's TV broadcasting deal expires, the Poms have virtually guaranteed their players the most imperfect preparation imaginable for these, still, prestigious tournaments. To be fair, English performances in limited overs cricket have been as inept as the ICC's handling of world cricket over the past decade. The Poms should do us fans a favour and withdraw from future ICC ODI tournaments altogether.

Is the ECB trying to convince the world that ODIs should be reduced to 40 overs or is this decision the strongest hint yet of the imminent disbandment of ODI cricket? What do you think?

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Australian Cricket Missing The Point?

The immediate aftermath of Ashes 09 has predictably seen a flurry of opinions pertaining to everything and anything that may be wrong with Australian cricket. A lot of this noise has been made by the top chiefs and former players about the need to professionalise Australia's selection panel, with Jason Gillespie the latest to proffer his two-cents-worth. However, does a professional panel necessarily improve on-field results or does it just make them more predictable? I put it to you that in its haste to exhibit disappointment and an appetite for change, Australian cricket has simply missed the point.

I believe that Australia's cricket establishment has been blinded by the success of its recent crop of greats and it should have indulged less in self-absorbed back-patting and doffed the Baggy Green more earnestly to pure and unadulterated luck, for good systems and processes may help to produce more consistent cricketers but true greats arrive on our TV screens through nothing more than the grace of God. It is because of this mindset that Australia's most recent loss of The Ashes is being universally attributed to a failure of the system and the real reasons for this loss are being ignored.

I have no quibble with expert's suggestions that the job of an Australian selector (or that of any other top cricketing country, for that matter) is likely too arduous and important to leave to semi-professional part-timers. It should be made a full-time position and in this post-greats era it definitely should have a greater emphasis on early talent identification and promotion. However, this alone is unlikely to take Australia back to the top of the ICC Test rankings.

It is no secret that talking tough (remember mental disintegration), playing aggressively and appearing clinical in all respects was decisively easier with a team that included players of the calibre of Messieurs Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Waugh, Waugh and Hayden. But in the afterglow of their retirements, Australian cricket has developed a severe case of amnesia. It has forgotten its own two golden rules:

1. The brave make their own luck (ie. victory will not be achieved without taking calculated risks); and

2. Aggressive, in-your-face cricket is the Australian way and must be played at all costs.

The reason Australia lost The Ashes is not because the selectors failed to devote enough time to their duties, but because they took the safe and sensible route when the daring and provocative was the need of the hour. The Australian selectors sent a team to England that ticked all the boxes rather than one that was going to take the proverbial bull by the horns. Then, while in Her Majesty's backyard they didn't exhibit the gumption to make changes as and when the situation demanded.

In contrast, the English selectors, contrary to all expectations, resisted the urge for knee-jerk reactions, backed their instincts and took calculated risks (the most decisive being one Jonathan Trott). At Leeds the English could have stacked the team with batsmen, played for a draw and waited for a fit Andrew Flintoff to return at The Oval. Instead, they stuck to their guns and selected a team they thought would win the Test. They traded on aggression throughout.

On the other hand, Australia's selections favoured out-of-form bowlers and was based more on the captain's comfort level with favourite players rather than the conditions at hand or the interests of a balanced team. Is Bryce McGain so inferior to Andrew McDonald that he doesn't even deserve a place in the touring party? Especially after Shane Warne's debut, surely the selectors have learned that one bad debut Test doesn't warrant eternal exile? Is Mitchell Johnson so indispensable that the selectors couldn't bring themselves to cut their losses?

Professionalism is an oft-abused term in cricket these days. Incompetent administrators simply fail to understand that batting, bowling and fielding is an art and not a mathematical equation. It is very easy to wax lyrical about aggression and ruthlessness when the obstacle in your path is not worthy of its title. It requires heightened self-confidence to stick to those guns when the periods between successive chews of the captain's fingernails become shorter and shorter.

Australian cricket administrators must stop hiding behind irrelevant corporate management jargon. Australian cricket needs to rediscover its mongrel and self-worth, for cricket needs a strong and aggressive Australia.

Continued >> >>

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes: The Aftermath

Well another Ashes series over and I am sure the reviews and respective post-mortems are already under way, at least for the Australian camp. Despite the fifth test being a lop-sided affair and ending inside four days, the 2009 Ashes has been fiercely competitive and both sides have shown glimpses of test cricket worthy of the number 1 test ranking.  

As is the way with all major test series, actions speak louder than words, but in all honesty, which team will undergo severe changes for the future? Ricky Ponting is once again down to his last fingernail in another Ashes series and holds an infamous record, in that he is the first Captain of Australia to lose the Ashes twice since the 1900's! But will it be his minions that will face a wielding axe, or the triumphant English team?

Ashes 2009 has definitely lived up to the hype of another big series ticket with all dramas starting with Kevin Pietersen's injuries, Andrew Flintoff's retirement and an emphatic English win. So this begs the question, where to now for team England? Flintoff retiring, Bopara's barren spell with the bat and a middle order lacking the stability required to sustain positive results. Winning the Ashes is one thing, but for the likes of Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood, the exit door never seems to far away. Other than his Cardiff heroics, Collingwood proved susceptible to the short ball and could never seem to tighten his technique against the Aussie quicks, and Cook's 95 at Lords was the only showing of his true ability with the bat, along with his inability to convert 50 to 100. I cannot see the likes of Ian Bell or Collingwood for that matter holding their places once Pietersen is fit again, and rumours are that selector Geoff Miller is trying to persuade Marcus Trescothick out of retirement, so watch out Alistair Cook. In addition, the stunning debut of Jonathan Trott will certainly dampen Ravi Bopara's spirits, despite carving up a double hundred for Essex mid week.

However, despite this change, everyone knows the biggest impact after this Ashes will be the Freddie factor, how will England replace the versatile all-rounder? The improvement of Stuart Broad with bat and ball will be a positive for the ECB, but is he ready to bat at seven? In addition, England's bowling stocks seem to be hitting their straps at the moment and gentlemen such as Graham Onions, Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison will be chomping at the bit for their future places in the squad.

You would not think a winning team would require such thought and immense change for the future, but what about the Australians? Can we as selection critics really see big 'Merv' wielding the axe on the squad members? As a batting lineup, it's obvious that Australia's batsmen were personally more successful than their English counterparts, but where does the buck stop? Michael Hussey was a big candidate for future omission, however surely his defiant hundred on a deteriorating Oval wicket will guarantee him a spot for the upcoming home series. Furthermore, Shane Watson proved to be a revelation and Marcus North is fast becoming one of my personal favourites and that's not just because of his big Lara-esque back-lift. So where does all this leave the Aussies?

The coming weeks will make for interesting reading, to see where the criticisms will be directed, no doubt Ponting and his inconsistent leadership along with the selectors decision's over the course of the tour will be the initial talk, but I certainly look forward to the upcoming home test series against an improving Pakistan. Until then, readers, your thoughts over the immediate future over the Australian test team personnel would prove interesting, but for me personally, I honestly cannot see much change, unless they start from the very top

Continued >> >>

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Time To Go, Ricky Ponting

With the cricketing world appearing more like Big Brother, and less like a professional sporting environment, there could not have been another title for this piece. Ricky Ponting has lost The Ashes (for the second time) and must now make good all his and Cricket Australia's claims of professionalism and accountability by falling on his sword. Period.

Ponting's on-field tactical deficiencies, lack of selectorial vision and penchant for acting in a manner unbecoming of the office of Australian captain should have been grounds enough for his removal many moons ago. Just how long can Cricket Australia afford to support a compromised captain?

Playing a clearly out of form Mitchell Johnson after the first three tests was inexplicable, especially when one considers that Johnson has never consistently exhibited the one trait that is necessary to take wickets in England: movement in the air or off the wicket. Not playing the redoubtable Stuart Clark until the fourth Test was simply baffling. Using part-timers when pressing for victory in Cardiff would be considered unforgivable in a schoolboys match. Omitting Nathan Hauritz for the fifth Test even after the home team was considering playing a second spinner should have indicated the nature of the surface and has proven an inexcusable error. Setting defensive fields during the English second innings of the fifth Test when the clear mandate was for aggressive cricket and quick wickets was the sign of a confused and incompetent captain. These are merely five seminal moments that could have produced a different result against an opponent that, unlike 2005, can only politely be described as mediocre.

One of the pitfalls of Cricket Australia's strategy of anointing captaincy successors very early in players' careers is that significant pressure is placed on the incumbent after a string of failures. And what a string of failures it has proven to be - started by India during the second half 2008, continued by South Africa down under and topped off by lowly-placed England in the just concluded Ashes series! For how much longer can Australian cricket risk its next generation in the hands of a severely flawed leader while there is a well-groomed and more able replacement ready and waiting to assume the mantle?

Ian Chappell and even James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's CEO, have offered that Ponting may quit cricket altogether if he is relieved of the captaincy. This appears a sorry and irrelevant excuse for an absence of gumption to take decisions that will benefit Australian cricket in the long term, for the presence, or lack thereof, of an individual should never overshadow the interests of the team. If Ponting does consider retirement upon being sacked then Cricket Australia must ensure that he is appropriately counselled.

However, Ponting is a proud and patriotic Australian and has the best interests of his nation at the core of whatever he does, even if some his means are abhorrently misguided. For this reason and given all that he can still contribute to the team through his batting, I don't buy into the conclusion that Ponting would retire immediately if demoted.

Australia is known for backing out-of-form greats, but a realistic and objective post-series review must only come to one conclusion: that Ponting's days at the helm are well and truly numbered. This exit may not require Gretel Killeen's dramatics, but the writing has now been engraved on the wall - it's time to leave, Ricky Ponting.

Continued >> >>

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Only Road Ahead For Test Cricket (Part 2)

(Click here for Part 1)

Given all the recent and frenzied noises about the future of Test cricket from many that walk the corridors of power of world cricket, the following is the second of a two-part series offering a simple, effective and practical solution to fortify the primacy and sanctity of Test cricket.

While I have significant doubts about the validity of the doomsday theories pertaining to the future of Tests, as I said in Part 1, there is a distinct need to ensure that the game changes to adapt to world that is not what it was in the 1950's. Simple things that are the pet peeves of many cricket fans and that need to be urgently improved, include:

The bane of attacking, entertaining and result-oriented Test cricket, host boards must be punished for deliberately producing lifeless and barren pitches. Test pitches must offer some assistance for bowlers. A century should have to be earned, not just a formality after surviving the first 20 balls of an innings. I'd rather have a Test match that finishes in 3 days than one where it takes 4 days to finish just two innings.

Secondly, it doesn't worry me if the pitches offer spin from Day 1. There is simply nothing wrong with a surface that turns square early in a Test match. Fast bowlers are no more sacrosanct than spinners and administrators must resist the temptation to adopt the antipodean view that the best Test pitch must offer something to fast bowlers during the early stages of a match. If this is possible, then all well and good. But, it should not be mandatory, for spinners are just as important as the quicks.

Why is it that when time is lost due to weather or other unsuitable conditions, breaks for lunch and tea remain unaltered. Would it not make more sense to shorten lunch and tea breaks to maximise playing time? Surely, this is a no-brainer.

Points System
Given that I am proposing a league that will require a points table to decide the winner, the relegated and the promoted. It is crucial that the points system actively encourages attacking and result-oriented cricket. After observing the boring cricket played in first class leagues the world over which offer points for a first innings lead, I am convinced that points for a first innings lead must not be awarded in a Test championship. Instead teams should be awarded 1 point for a draw, 2 points for a tie, 4 points for an outright win and 8 points for an innings victory.

This points system will promote attacking and entertaining cricket and will reward teams and captains who are prepared to take risks.

Ensuring the Presence of the Big Boys
A school of thought in opposition to a league-style Test championship believes that it is important to ensure that the big boys continue to play each other, irrespective of the quality of cricket on offer. You might not be surprised to learn that this is not a view to which I subscribe.

My premise is simple: traditional rivalries attract significant viewer interest, and thereby media coverage, only when the two combatants are well-matched. Case in point Australia and West Indies - the Frank Worrell Trophy was keenly anticipated and contested when the West Indies had a team worthy of their proud history. Now, due to the Windies' unbroken decline this series attracts as much fanfare and media attention as Australia v Bangladesh. New rivalries that capture spectator attention are then developed in place of these former "marquee" series, eg. Australia v India.

Therefore, if a former cricketing superpower is demoted from the "Elite" league, this can only be a sign that that team's standards have nosedived to such an extent that that team's series no longer deserve the viewership or media attention of an era past.

Night Cricket
The issue of night Test cricket is one on which I believe administrators, for all their operational and strategic ineptness, actually have their heart in the right place. The fact remains, however, that the integrity of Test cricket must not be compromised by a move to night time cricket. A large component of maintaining this integrity is ensuring that the ball used for night Test cricket behaves in exactly the same way as the traditional red balls in use today. Since this issue is the most significant impediment to the introduction of night Test cricket, administrators must remain firm demanding a like-for-like product when negotiating with ball manufacturers, broadcasters and sponsors.

What do you think? Are these ideas practical? Are they even necessary?

Continued >> >>

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Problem With Indians

Specifically Indian cricketers, is that they love speaking out of turn. They love to blabber even when they are totally out of their depth, and in an eternal quest to be perceived as intelligent they cloud necessary and invaluable debate by introducing irrelevant and nonsensical arguments. Case in point: Yuvraj Singh, on the issue of WADA-conducted drug testing in cricket.

At the outset, let me categorically state that I am in full support of anti-doping initiatives taken by various sporting bodies the world over. However, it is also my opinion that the 11 Indian cricketers rebelling against WADA's draconian testing conditions have a very valid point.

Forests aplenty have been turned into pulp to print opinions galore on this issue and while I don't intent to be the root cause for the loss of another tree, I must admit that I find it bemusing that the powers-that-be are unable to apply the basic human right of privacy (and to some degree the presumption of innocence) when drafting these contentious contracts. Surely the solution is as simple as demanding a phone number on which the athlete is called 6-12 hours prior to a test so that their whereabouts can be ascertained. Surely?

Alas, I digress. Yuvraj Singh's latest rant about drug testing intruding on his "family" time is a load of utter hogwash for two reasons. First, Yuvraj spends too much time in bars and clubs to have any left to spend with his family. Second, even if this were to be proven false, I fail to understand how a 5 minute process of urinating in a cup detracts from his 'family' life. Some might contend that after spending so much time in various establishments, Yuvraj may have no trouble at all in filling up many little plastic cups.

Like many before him (and probably like many after him,, until a capable media manager is hired by the BCCI) Yuvraj has clearly missed the point. His pals are not arguing against the infamous Whereabouts Clause because of an encroachment on their family time, but because their unplanned schedules do not allow them to nominate times and places three months in advance with much accuracy and because of security implications for some of the 11 nominated individuals.

To understand these valid arguments does not require an inherent knowledge of astrophysics. Harbhajan Singh (who, mind, hardly spoke English prior to 2001) clearly knows what he's on about, why is Yuvraj so in the dark? By spouting rubbish pertaining to irrelevant and unrelated matters Yuvraj has once again provided easy fodder for those oppose the stand taken by the Indian players.

If an individual has a penchant for being seen in the media, is it really so difficult for him to at least understand the issue before opening his mouth? If I were MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar a stern phone call to Yuvraj to keep his trap well and truly shut would already have been made.

Then again, what can we expect from the likes of Yuvraj when BCCI officials embarrass themselves thus, "What's the need for cricket to become an Olympic sport?"

Continued >> >>

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Brit Oval Wicket Widget

Ever wanted a cricket specific app for your desktop that gives you the latest news, the newest videos, the opportunity to buy tickets to the next match and the chance to chat with other cricket officianados? Well the folks at The Brit Oval might just have had had you in mind when coming up with the Wicket Widget.

The Wicket Widget worked well for me. It's a small app that doesn't pretend to be anything but a convenient way for cricket fans in the UK to support keep abreast of the action and indulge their passion. Unfortunately, the downside is that it is only for English / County cricket fans at this stage.

The other unfortunate aspect is that I wasn't able to test the chat feature on this app which allows the user to use an IM-type service to connect with other cricket fans. A good way to create a sense of community would be to allow users, who provide their consent, to be found in a similar way to MIRC or other forums.

Anyway, while I believe there are tentative plans to make this app more relevant to an international cricketing audience, at this time UK cricket fans should go to the link above, download the app and try it out. The news is UK cricket-specific, the videos don't lag and the quality is crystal clear and if you have mates who are into County cricket then the chat function is just for you.

Go on, give it a whirl.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Only Road Ahead For Test Cricket

The columnists here at The Match Referee have had their say (none with more conviction and passion than evident here), many 'experts' have said their two-cents-worth and yet this car struggles to get out of first gear. However, the results of the recent West Indies v Bangladesh series serve to prove beyond doubt that any form of cricket needs equally matched opponents to appeal to the players and the paying public. For this reason and despite their recent victories against a team comparable to a very weak first-class side, Bangladesh and co do not yet belong in the big league.

I don't often agree with many the things Sambit Bal has to say, however here he makes a valid a point. Competition, drama and entertainment in any sport are at their peak when two gladiators of equal skill, temperament and passion battle to the death. Test cricket's (supposedly) waning popularity owes much to the lopsided non-contests greedy administrators have imposed upon players and spectators alike.

Just as an aside, I struggle with theory that Test cricket's popularity is, in fact, waning. I cannot recall meeting a single person who has admitted to switching from watching Test to T20 cricket for the reasons usually provided by naysayers. Most lovers of Tests have supplemented their passion for the game by also watching T20s, and those who solely watch T20 cricket are new fans of the game. This tells me that Test cricket isn't any less popular than the shorter versions, merely that the T20 cricket has achieved administrators' goals of attracting a wider audience.

However, resting on one's laurels is a proven recipe for future disaster and so action needs to be taken now to strengthen all formats of the game. First, the number of Test playing nations must be reduced to a minimum of six and a maximum of eight countries. Six will guarantee that only the best play each other more frequently, however this may lead to a situation where we are fed too much of a good thing. Hence, eight seems a better number.

Secondly, encourage and support the better associate nations to play a greater number of four or five day matches amongst themselves, thereby enabling greater exposure to the nuances of the longer version of the game. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (in the pre-2000 period) have been great examples of how difficult it is to apply a limited overs mindset to the 5-day version. Many skills, both mental and physical, learned in the longer formats can prove highly advantageous in T20 and ODI cricket.

Third, introduce a two-tiered league / championship where the wooden spooners from the 'elite' league are demoted to the 'associate' league and replaced in the elite league by the corresponding winners of the associate league. To be perceived as relevant and dynamic, each such cycle should be of a duration no longer than two years.

This three-step plan, or a close derivative, has many of the qualities required to make Test cricket attractive and financially viable (because this is pretty much all the ICC cares about, right?) for all stakeholders now and in the future. Other issues also require simultaneous attention, for they are no less important in improving the cricketing landscape. Anyone listening?

Continued >> >>
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